If I Were Preaching, King David, Narrative Lectionary, Psalm 51

A Little Dirt

“A little dirt never hurt anyone,” declared Mrs. Toler, our Girl Scout leader. She was a science and math teacher at St. Agnes School and had daughters of her own. She broke through the all-indoors reign of the longtime troop leader, the terrifying Miss Stebbins, and took us camping. We made donuts out of biscuit dough by boiling them in hot oil over a campfire, burning hot and joyfully sweet after we rolled them in powdered sugar. I can call up the aroma and flavor of hamburger cooked over the same fire to add to our spaghetti sauce. Mrs. Toler knew what she was doing.

She brushed off our concerns about outdoor eating and sleeping, confidently.

When I became a woman and a mother, I carried her message into parenting. “A little dirt never hurt anybody.” I imagined myself as laid back, non-neurotic (ha!) and just generally hip to the idea that roughing it can’t kill you.

By which I mean I didn’t force a lot of unnecessary bathing on my children.

Then I contracted an auto-immune disease and became much more concerned about the hygiene of everyone in my immediate surroundings.

All of which means I am a much stricter parent to my step-son than I ever was to the older three. If he goes to wash his hands and comes back too soon, I demand to inspect them. I know some moms who love the smell of “I just played outside for too long” little boy. Maybe you know what a boy’s dirty hands feel like. They have texture, seem layered, almost. When you slide your thumb across the skin, it sticks.

“Go back and use soap.”

Sometimes my heart feels like those hands, a good heart underneath it all, but layered with the smudges of little hurts inflicted by others, the silt of guilty self-knowledge and the griefs-turned-crust shielding the tender parts.

“Create in me a clean heart.”

Psalm 51 asks for God’s assistance in heart renewal. It’s ascribed to David and associated with the aftermath of his affair with Bathsheba and his plot against her husband. As kathrynzj said in her sermon today, David managed to break about 50% of the commandments in just this one series of escapades. Nathan the prophet manages to convince him of his guilt, and David repents, hoping to rebuild his relationship with God.

Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.

(Psalm 51:10-11, Common English Bible)

hand washing heartWe don’t know if King David actually wrote all the psalms, and there are plenty of scholars who think psalms came later, during and after the Babylonian exile, long after his time. But there is a strong association between David and this particular Psalm, as if even the intellectual among us can’t quite bear to part the two. This iconic figure is tender and tough, faithful and flagrant, loving and libidinous, warlike and woeful. He struggles to live up to his call, and when he fails, he comes back to God and asks for help. 

Even if a little dirt never hurt anybody permanently, letting it build up creates complications. It may seem like nothing will ever be the same, and maybe it won’t be exactly. Think of David, getting honest with himself about the ways he messed up not just his own life. A clean heart doesn’t come out of nowhere; it’s not a new heart. A renewed heart comes through the effort of being honest with God and with yourself.

Start at the sink. Lather up. Give all the things covering you to the One who always loved you, even when She dearly wished you would use the soap.

If I Were Preaching, Luke, Reflectionary, Revised Common Lectionary

The Shrewd Third Grader

old-navy-fleeceIt was chilly this morning, but The Boy got dressed as he has every morning this school year, in those long athletic shorts and a t-shirt. At about ten minutes to Leave for the Bus O’Clock, I suggested a jacket might be appropriate. He stuck his head out the front door, recoiled from the cool air, and turned around to get one, but first he offered this.

“What if no one else at the bus stop is wearing a jacket?”

“I doubt that will be the case,” I answered firmly.

“I’ll bet you — ” he said.

We went through a swift list of potential scenarios in which I would pay him this, and he would pay me that, astounding in their complexity. (This was before coffee, you see.)

Finally, I said, “I’ll tell you what. I will give you a quarter if no one else at the bus stop is wearing a jacket.”

He considered the offer, eyes lit up, taking in that there was no risk on his part since we weren’t actually engaging in a bet he could lose, exactly. He agreed and left for the bus stop with the other parent on the premises.

school busNo sooner had they turned the corner than he saw a child in a jacket.

Ever hopeful, he declared, “I guess that means I only get 20 cents.”

With each child spied in a jacket, the amount decreased in the mind of this amazingly shrewd third grader, prepared to cut a deal with me later despite the solid nature of my proffer.

When he reached Negative 10 cents, there was a moment of despair, but as soon as he saw one child without a jacket, he bounced back and said, “That’s 5 cents for me.”

His mother may have shaken her head, but she knew as well as he did that a shrewd third grader could probably have gotten me to pay the 5 cents, if only the child in question hadn’t been shivering, his arms drawn inside his insufficient shirt.


I’m not preaching this week, but if I were, I imagine this little tale would be weaving itself around the Parable of the Dishonest or Shrewd Manager, Luke 16:1-13.

If I Were Preaching, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sabbath

Something(s) At Which I Do Not Excel

Something at which I do not excel is resting.

This is a pity, since on the four point plan for people who have Rheumatoid Arthritis, #1 is Rest. The other three are Exercise, Medication and Positive Attitude. You really can't do #2 if you're having symptoms, or rather I can't if I'm having the symptoms I'm having right this minute, which seem to be particularly focused on my right knee and the ball of my right foot.

This leads me to another thing at which I do not excel, which is admitting it when the RA is getting the better of me. Truly, I've been very fortunate since the whole thing began in the spring of 2008, because ever since I got on medication, I've felt mostly pretty good and rarely has the disease caused significant, well, dis-ease. The summer of 2008 was tough, as I tried to adjust to the medication (see #3) and attempted to cultivate a positive attitude (#4) in the midst of all the fears natural to a person learning she has a chronic illness. 

But after a summer season of job searching and various stresses, my joints felt pretty craptastic, and I have been doing my utmost to rest this week. 

To achieve that I have to turn it into a Type A challenge. It's not enough to simply collapse into a little heap, as I like to say, but I must also declare it to be Heap Week. And then count off the days. And hold myself to a schedule of being mostly unscheduled. 

Something at which I do not excel is resting.

Maybe it's due to the influences of verses like these:

"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." (Luke 12:35-40, NRSV, part of this week's gospel lesson)

Really, wouldn't they be inclined to make you hyper-vigilant? 

I said from the beginning that I feared having to sit quietly under a tree, just smelling the flowers, and I have been lucky, since that's my fear, that I've mostly been able to keep going, with a few modifications to my lifestyle. I've had to give up my love affair with the fourteen hour day. 

Yes, I really just wrote that. Those were my favorites, the days that began super early and went on well into the evening. Did they make me feel important? Necessary? Alive? I just know I thought I was thriving on them. 

But they're gone as a regular feature in my life, and I suspect that actually makes me a person who is more ready rather than less. 

I hope so.

Even though resting is something at which I do not excel.